Let’s start with what should be obvious: Allegations of fraud pushed by Donald Trump, Rudy Giuliani and more than 60 Pennsylvania Republican legislators are devoid of merit. Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar and election officials in Pennsylvania’s 67 counties deserve praise for executing a safe, fair and free election amid the pandemic-addled dumpster fire of 2020.
Today, that effort will be affirmed when Pennsylvania’s 20 electors meet and cast votes reflecting the will of the majority of Pennsylvanians, who chose Joe Biden.
But there is still room for improvement. And that room, unfortunately, has given just enough oxygen to opportunistic bottom-feeders for them to cast baseless doubt on our secure election.
VotesPA.com, the state’s hub for online voter registration and election information, crashed for more than 40 hours, just weeks before crucial registration and voting deadlines. Many voters tracking the status of their mail-in ballots received multiple copies of the same typo-ridden email from the state. Other official emails were awkwardly worded, further confusing already challenging voting processes.
In handling mail-in ballots, the nearly 20-year-old SURE (Statewide Uniform Registry of Electors) System showed its age. In certain cases, voters received their mail-in ballots, completed and returned them, and then days later received email notifications that ballots were being mailed to them. These glitches were unrelated to ballot-counting integrity, but the confusion caused confidence gaps in our electoral systems.
When the commissioners rolled out in-person early voting and drop-boxes, the announcements were contradictory. They originally planned for 17 early voting sites as early as Sept. 29, but those satellite sites had staggered openings over a matter of weeks, with some not opening until Oct. 19, and several still not offering full-service voting. Though Philadelphians know to look up their polling places on the city’s handy Atlas website, none of the corresponding early voting or drop-box information could be found there, which suggests a troubling lack of coordination between the city’s and the commissioners’ respective tech and communications teams.
After the election, as ballot-counting stretched on for days and the world looked to Pennsylvania, delays appeared between what the counties reported and what the state tallied. These systems should be synced to eliminate discrepancies that could cause onlookers to cry foul.
Each of these problems can be fixed administratively. Granted, the state also needs a slew of legislative patches for the mail-in voting law, from curing ballots to allowing pre-canvassing to clearing up “naked ballots.” But state Republicans have shown so little interest in doing so that they deliberately scuttled plans for pre-canvassing just so Trump would have an opportunity to question later-counted votes for Biden. So we don’t have high hopes for results from this legislature.
A record number of Pennsylvanians — nearly 7 million — cast votes this year. That proves that increased ballot access through mail-in voting gives more people a say in the democratic process. But it also suggests a new normal in which ballots could take days to count, and it’s more important than ever that our systems are crisp, efficient, and clear. In an election in which one side is desperate to find and exploit inconsistencies, any wrinkles can cause the entire system to be hijacked by nefarious actors.